13 August 2007

Undocumented Mexican jaguars infiltrate border, steal American deer.

Unqualified Offerings' Thoreau riffs on an older news item about jaguars in Arizona:

Jaguars are moving from Mexico to Arizona. Now, it would be tempting to look at them and admire their beauty, but consider some of the facts. A Mexican jaguar is willing to hunt deer for 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, and for less money than American-born mountain lions. And they have large families, often as many as 4 kittens per litter, while American-born mountain lions are struggling just to maintain their numbers. Indeed, given how difficult it is for a mountain lion family to get by in Santa Monica these days, why should we be letting immigrant cats in to compete for resources?

It would be tempting to say that we should let the market decide, but we don’t have a free market for deer, rabbits, and other small to mid-sized game. Besides, jaguars are beneficiaries of state programs, enjoying special protected status. As long as the state insists on regulating endangered species, how can we justify letting jaguars in to enjoy those benefits at the expense of American-born mountain lions, wolves, and other predators? [...]

It’s time to stop being a bunch of pussies in the face of a threat to our way of life, and finally take action. What we need is a large fence. There’s no way a jaguar could ever climb…
Includes a jaguar lolcat.

In a major campaign strategy breakthrough, Tancredo finally figures out a way to bring 'the children' into his xenophobic lunacy:

A Tom Tancredo campaign office in Council Bluffs, IA provides this running tally of sex crimes committed against children by illegal aliens since 9/11. (Via Tancredo Watch; TW also explains why we all ought to support Tancredo's presidential candidacy: "The longer he's in the presidential race, the less likely he will be to declare for re-election in Colorado's Sixth Congressional District.")

Colorado Mushroom Blogging

Camped this weekend near Tolland, CO (formerly Mammoth, CO!) and watched the Perseid metor shower. Also, since it's been unusually humid this summer, saw an incredible array of mushrooms, none of which I was allowed to eat. We saw approximately a trillion of these:

The King Boletus, or Porcini. Good to eat, although we didn't try any. Some of these were 10-12 inches across. We also spotted quite a few of these right around our campsite:

As soon as I saw these (Amanita Muscaria), they reminded me of Alice in Wonderland, which it turns out is a correct association. Different varieties are psychoactive, deadly, or most often both (the red/orange type we saw is the most potent). The AM has a fascinating history and is widely considered a good luck token, so this weekend I will go back and collect a few for drying. If I decide to sample them, will report back on results.

Also spotted: Purple Coral, Pear-shaped Puffball, and some kind of pinkish mushrooom that I haven't identified yet.

Unintended consequences in the coyote industry

Via Hit & Run, I found Debbie Nathan's feminism-and-immigration themed blog, where she describes some interesting consequences of Bush's move to criminalize employment of undocumented immigrants:

Jose has crossed solo several times in the past 15 years to work in agriculture. Lately, though, stepped up border enforcement has made it so difficult to get past Laredo that he’s taken to hiring a coyote for $1300. He knows lots of people who’ve always used smugglers, and until recently, he says, the coyotes were a nasty lot. “They would cross 40 people at a time, impose the charges at the border, make everyone walk three to six days to San Antonio, often rob customers, and frequently rape the women travelers.”

But now, Jose says, all those Border Patrol agents are having an effect. It’s so hard to cross now that fewer people are coming. This has created intense competition among the coyotes, who have responded by vastly improving their services.

“Now, they pay your way on a first-class bus from your home town to the border. They cross only 8 people at a time. After they get you to the US side, you only have to walk a few hours because they’ve made arrangements with farmers in South Texas to put you up for the night, even feed you. And some of those farmers are gringos,” Jose adds. “Then they put you in vans and drive you to Houston.”

“And they’re much nicer to women now. No more robberies. No rapes. They know it will get out by word of mouth, and they desperately want to maintain and expand their customer base.”

Good reporting -- will be checking out Debbie's blog more often.

10 August 2007

It's, like, the circle of life or something.

From Neurophilosophy:

The spores of the fungus attach themselves to the external surface of the ant, where they germinate. They then enter the ant's body through the tracheae (the tubes through which insects breathe), via holes in the exoskeleton called spiracles. Fine fungal filaments called mycelia then start to grow inside the ant's body cavity, absorbing the host's soft tissues but avoiding its vital organs.

When the fungus is ready to sporulate, the mycelia grow into the ant's brain. The fungus then produces chemicals which act on the host's brain and alter its perception of pheromones. This causes the ant to climb a plant and, upon reaching the top, to clamp its mandibles around a leaf or leaf stem, thus securing it firmly to what will be its final resting place.

The fungus then devours the ant's brain, killing the host. The fruiting bodies of the fungus sprout from the ant's head, through gaps in the joints of the exoskeleton. Once mature, the fruiting bodies burst, releasing clusters of capsules into the air. These in turn explode on their descent, spreading airborne spores over the surrounding area. These spores then infect other ants, completing the life cycle of the fungus.

The original post has video of this. This fungus, and many other varieties of bug-killing parasites, are used as environmentally-friendly pest control. (The other brainwashing parasite mentioned in the post: the gordian worm, which as a juvenile takes up residence inside a grasshopper or beetle, then induces the insect to drown itself so that the adult worm can emerge and reproduce.)

I think I found this post especially vivid because I just finished reading the Worlds trilogy (Joe Haldeman), in which humans colonizing a new planet are terrorized by the Eveloi, a parasitic species that directs its hosts' actions by means of a tiny filament accessing the brain through a hole in the skull. (An interesting thing I noticed about the Worlds books -- there are references throughout, in character and place names, to giants of sci-fi/futurism like Asimov, Heinlein, and some others that seemed familiar but I couldn't place.)

09 August 2007

A carbon-neutral oasis in the desert

I guess someone had to be first:

It may seem strange that the emirate of Abu Dhabi, one of the planet's largest suppliers of oil, is planning to build the world's first carbon-neutral city.

But in fact, it makes a lot of financial sense. The 3.7-square-mile city, called Masdar, will cut its electricity bill by harnessing wind, solar, and geothermal energy, while a total ban on cars within city walls should reduce the long-term health costs associated with smog.

Masdar will be filled with shaded streets to encourage walking. A solar-powered transit system will take you to the airport.
(HT: Gristmill)

The Jujitsu of Geek

Julian has an interesting post up about the different ways in which people can 'own' labels originally directed at them as insults. He differentiates between ironic acceptance ("See how little bothered we are by the petty schoolyard taunt you've tried to apply to us," applied in cases where there's no risk that the label will be interpreted as literally true) and defiant appropriation ("Damn right we are -- get used to it," applied as spin where the Label is factually true). As noted, insults like 'bigot' are unlikely to be adopted through either mechanism -- too sensitive for irony, too dangerous to admit in any context.

I'm wondering how 'geek-chic' fits into this paradigm. Some extremely hip technophiles have commandeered 'geek' in what seems to be an ironic way, but I suspect there's more to it. Possibilities:

Ironic: "I am so cool that your insult lacks all credibility, and is humorous."

Defiant: "Yes, I'm a geek, and will eventually have lots of money and hot women (or men). What was your insult, again?"

Pre-emptive: "I am worried that someone, someday might notice that I am a geek underneath my layers of cool, so I will say it first."

Conspicuous consumption: "I am so hip that I can afford the coolness-expense associated with being a geek, and still be more hip than you."

Countersignaling: "I have no need conceal my geek nature, because I am confident that you will eventually find out how cool I am."

06 August 2007

Why research and teaching functions should probably be separated out at the university level.

How we know Einstein maybe wouldn't have made such a great science prof:

You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.

03 August 2007

Friday time-suck: a different kind of world clock.

The Spirit of Now: a world clock keeping a running tally of things like births, deaths, HIV infections, CO2 emissions, etc. The numbers are not quite real-time, but are continuously updating from various international official sources. Unexpectedly transfixing.

02 August 2007

Star Trek: The Newly Enhanced, But Still Corny, Original Series

Good news for ST enthusiasts: TOS is being given a cosmetic makeover to add better backgrounds and effects. In other words: not every planetary surface will bear a striking resemblance to southern California! But every improvement comes with a cost:

Remastering the show has also given every scene a crisper, more vibrant look that will thrive in the brave new HDTV world, although there is a downside: Enhanced visual information renders a too-much-information view of Capt. Kirk's ripped-shirt torso and confirms his nondigitally enhanced pate.
I need a DVR.

Do not get Tyler Cowen's book for free

Tyler Cowen's new book is out today: Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist. He makes the following offer via Marginal Revolution: write him a paragraph explaining why you should get the book from him, for free. Tyler will mail free copies of the book to the top 15 commenters who meet his requirements. Some of the commenters articulate very clever reasons why they should receive the book for free, and some are less clever. Here is what I posted, in the spirit of yesterday's MGTW post on avoiding the accumulation of stuff:


You should definitely not send me your book, especially for free. Here's why: I will eventually read it via the local library, which is how I read all books. I never buy them, except for favorite novels and small paperbacks suitable for beach reading. Plus, decision theory seems to show that after any transaction involving exchange of money for goods/services, the purchaser places less value on a purchase that was cheap or free than on one that was expensive, and will be less likely to use/wear/read it. In other words, giving your book to anyone who would have read it anyway is a net loss -- they will undervalue it just because they got it cheap. You should only give it to people who already dislike it, if you must give it away. So please do not send it to me; I will be forced to return it so as not to lower my value estimate of what's in it.

01 August 2007

Getting un-stuffed

Paul Graham has an enjoyable short essay up on stuff: why we accumulate it, why it's bad for us, what to do with it, etc. A couple choice bits:

Stuff has gotten a lot cheaper, but our attitudes toward it haven't changed correspondingly. We overvalue stuff.That was a big problem for me when I had no money. I felt poor, and stuff seemed valuable, so almost instinctively I accumulated it. [...]

I've now stopped accumulating stuff. [...] I'm not claiming this is because I've achieved some kind of zenlike detachment from material things. I'm talking about something more mundane. A historical change has taken place, and I've now realized it. Stuff used to be valuable, and now it's not.

In industrialized countries the same thing happened with food in the middle of the twentieth century. As food got cheaper (or we got richer; they're indistinguishable), eating too much started to be a bigger danger than eating too little. We've now reached that point with stuff.
This is true, obviously, but hard to implement. Back when postmodernism was cool, Don DeLillo wrote this about shopping:

I shopped with reckless abandon. I shopped for immediate needs and distant contingencies. I shopped for its own sake, looking and touching, inspecting merchandise I had no intention of buying, then buying it. I sent clerks into their fabric books and pattern books to search for elusive designs. I began to grow in value and self-regard. I filled myself out, found new aspects of myself, located a person I'd forgotten existed. [...] The more money I spent, the less important it seemed. I was bigger than these sums. These sums poured off my skin like so much rain. These sums in fact came back to me in the form of existential credit. I felt expansive...
(For the full passage, which is exquisite, go here. Or better yet, read the book.)

I myself have moved almost once a year since leaving home for college, which is an excellent way to avoid accumulating stuff. Some other, less disruptive ways to get rid of stuff:

  • Yard/garage sales -- for those with way too much random stuff, accumulated by living too long in the same house.

  • Ebay, for valuable and/or easily shipped stuff, and craigslist, for stuff that is marginally valuable, or is easiest to sell locally.

  • Salvation Army, Goodwill, Vietnam Veterans of America -- for large items and large amounts of stuff that need to be picked up.

  • Freecycle -- for individual items that aren't quite valuable enough to sell, but still might be useful to someone, somewhere.

Checking the mood of the internet.

Via Mind Hacks, I found We Feel Fine, a site that collects feelings (statements from bloggers about how they're feeling) from the internet and catalogues them. I've only fooled around with the interface a little, but there are many options for looking at the data in interesting ways -- by location, weather, gender, age, type of feeling, and so on.

The methodology: The data collection engine searches blogs for sentences containing 'I feel' or 'I am feeling,' locates the full sentence and saves it. Then it checks the sentence for any of its 5,000 'feelings,' adjectives and adverbs entered in by the developers. If there's a match, the engine looks in the blog's profile to find out the location, age, and gender of the 'feeler;' it also uses the location data to look up current weather conditions. According to the site, the engine acquires between 15,000 and 20,000 feelings each day.

These basic, raw feelings create the first view of the data, but there are several others which model various statistics about the feelings. As of now, the mood here in Boulder is pretty good, to which I add the following statement: I feel zestful. I wonder if that's in their 5,000 pre-approved feelings?